It’s Down to Business for the Players
Now that the top players in women’s golf are gathered in Rancho Mirage for the season’s first major championship, it appears that a more business-like approach has been adopted by many of the top players.
Today’s media day started with Nelly Korda, one of last season’s runners up. In her comments, Korda indicated that she comes into the ANA feeling pretty good with her game having won earlier this year (at Gainbridge) and with a Top-10 finish last week at the KIA Classic. “I put a lot of work into it over the off-season and it just feels good for it to pay off. My coach is out here this week. I'm working on my swing a little. I felt pretty uncomfortable with it, actually. I've been working on it all season.”
It may seem counterintuitive to be working on swing changes during the week of a major, but Korda says she has a routine set out to accommodate her swing work and her tournament focus, “It's actually crazy because it's a swing plane (change), which I feel like it's one of the hardest things to kind of change, especially during tournament golf because you don't really want to think about your swing plane at all. It's something I worked through on Monday to Wednesday, and I don't really try to think about it from Thursday on because when you get technical out there, it can take you to some dark places.”
As she works on her swing changes, Korda has shifted how she approaches her practice rounds this week given her familiarity with Mission Hills, “I always play and practice way more when it comes to a major on Monday. But here, I just keep it nine (holes) every single day. It's more relaxed. Try to keep it more relaxed, because again, with a major, there's a lot more pressure that comes with it and the more relaxed you are, the more you're enjoying yourself out there; I feel like the better it will be.”
As for how she intends to play the course once Thursday comes around, Korda was quick to respond, “this week – consistently hitting the fairway. Consistently giving yourself opportunities and good looks at birdie. I mean, you have to hit fairways and you have to hit greens out here to play well.”
With the ANA Inspiration being the first major of the year, it is quite natural for many of the players to share with the media what they have been working on during the off-season. For the 2014 ANA champion, Lexi Thompson worked on every aspect of her game, starting with her mental game and her short game. She also shared that she has started working with a new coach – Martin Hall, who is familiar to the North American golf audience for his work on Golf Channel’s popular instructional show “School of Golf”.
“I put a lot of work in on my chipping and putting, hours a day, and just really making sure my ball-striking is more consistent. That's what I've been working on the most with . . . Worked a few lessons with Martin Hall, so definitely helped out there. I don't know, just keeping things simple but at the same time trying to improve on little things.”
As for the other runner-up from last year’s ANA championship, Brooke Henderson echoed similar thoughts about off-season preparations focusing specifically on her putting. “Always working on consistency and trying to get a little better every day, for me especially working on my short game has always been a big thing. I've been working with my putting and last week I had a few days or holes where I was putting really, really well which again is a big confidence booster. Hopefully keep it going. . . . it's always been, not a letdown, but some weeks I don't play as well, it's definitely usually the cause. So, I've just been working on a few things like ten feet and in, just being a little bit more trusting in myself, and trusting our reads.”
A little later on, Henderson elaborated further on her putting work, “working on the mental side of it, which I think is probably the most important part, and then my sister, she caddies for me and also helps a lot with the coaching aspect, too, when she's out here with me. On putting, we've been working together on different techniques and styles on how to read it and finding a balance for what works well for both of us and narrowing that in every week. I've actually switched to left-hand-low from inside ten feet which I put into play last week and it seemed to work out really nicely. That was a big change for me, but I feel really comfortable with it and I think I'll keep it going.”
As for course conditions, the players were unanimous in their assessment about the rough being long and thick, fairways in great shape and with firm greens – firmer than they were when the players stopped here in September last season. The course superintendent has reported that the greens will be playing at a speed of 12 on the stimpmeter and with greens firmer than September, it will force players into making decisions on how to attack them.
In speaking to how she may approach the 18th green, Henderson shared some insight “It's pretty firm so I think 3-wood is definitely out. If I can hit maybe a high 7-wood into the wind it will hold, and a hybrid will hold for sure.” Nelly Korda shared similar sentiments regarding the firm greens, “Last year they were definitely a little softer so you could spin it and come in with longer clubs and hold the greens. And I played the back nine yesterday and it was very hard to hold No. 17 (Par – 3). So those par 3s or those holes that you're coming in with like longer clubs, it's definitely going to be a little difficult and I think you're going to have advantages to hitting it long out here.”
Of course, this year’s edition of the ANA Inspiration will be played without spectators and that means that there will be no grandstand at the back of the 18th green, nor will there be the blue wall that is usually in place to protect spectators. With no protection of the grandstand and wall, the water behind the green comes into play, meaning that a ball struck a little firmer or balls flying because of an adrenaline rush will have a good chance of ending up in the water. It will force players to consider how they play the 18th and as Lexi Thompson summed it up, “I won't be going for it (if the tee on 18 is further back), especially with this wind, with it being into it. But, once they move the tee up, if I get into a good number, I hit 4-iron in today and I imagine that the tee was up, and I just placed the ball there and it stopped. It has to be a really good number for me to go for it.”
Day two of the media days continues tomorrow with Danielle Kang, Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park scheduled to meet the media.